Summit Youth Hockey creates opportunity for growth on and off the ice
Over the last few years, Breckenridge and the Summit County community has slowly, but surely, become a hockey town.
With an arena similar to those seen in small Canadian towns, Stephen C. West Ice Arena — just outside of downtown Breckenridge — offers young, old and even semi-professional skaters the opportunity to be a part of the Summit hockey community.
The nonprofit Summit Youth Hockey program has been at the epicenter of making Breckenridge a tight-knit hockey town. Based out of the Stephen C. West Ice Arena, the program strives to grow the game among Summit’s youth by offering a safe environment for boys and girls to foster teamwork, sportsmanship and respect through the sport of hockey.
For the last three years, JR Engelbert has acted as the director of operations for the Summit Youth Hockey program while simutaneslosuly serving as the head coach of the Summit High School hockey team and the Breckenridge Vipers semi-professional hockey team.
Before entering the full-time director of operations role, Engelbert had volunteered as a coach, helping share his love for the game to Summit’s youth. Over the last several years, Engelbert has readily seen the program grow.
One way in which Engelbert and hockey director Chris Miller have seen the program grow is through the mite program.
“The biggest thing with the growth is the free mite program that we do for first-year players — ages 8 and under (for boys), or 10 and under for girls,” Engelbert said. “Our goal is to have somewhere around 100 participants every year.”
The mite program helps introduce young kids to the sport and also provides players for the program’s older-level teams in the future.
“That’s the biggest thing I have noticed — is that the free mites have helped our program progress through the years where they are getting to the older ages and still have really strong numbers,” Engelbert said. “A lot of other mountain programs get to the older ages and start to struggle because kids choose different options. They also start with smaller numbers because they don’t quite offer the same intro to hockey that we do.”
Aside from skates, Summit Youth Hockey provides all necessary equipment to participants, making it a cost-efficient way for kids to get into the sport.
Engelbert has seen many athletes, himself included, grow attached to hockey because of the bonds that are formed between teammates. For him, it is this bond that sets hockey apart from many of the other sports that Summit County offers kids during the winter season.
“Hockey is a little different in the bond and chemistry and friendships that are formed compared to different sports,” Engelbert said. “It is different, and the bonds are stronger. These kids are making friends and memories not just on the ice but that they are going to remember for the rest of their life.”
The program staff members want hockey to make every kid become better human beings.
“Friendships, accountability, responsibility, commitment, work ethic — kind of all those off-ice skills that translate to a real world setting,” Engelbert said while referencing the skills they want kids to learn.
While being involved with the program for several years, Engelbert has already seen some of his old athletes go onto bigger and better things. This spring, Summit Youth Hockey alumni Cooper Pederson, Blaze Ebbinghaus and Eli Powers all signed to play hockey for junior-level teams or clubs.
“It speaks a lot to their passion and work ethic for the game,” Engelbert said. “It helps us because it shows you can stay in Summit County, play hockey for your local club and still be able to have options down the road.”
The trio of athletes not only shows the success of Summit Youth Hockey from a hockey perspective, but it is also a testament to the program developing well-rounded adults.
“Summit Youth Hockey shaped me into a player of knowing the game in and out. It also made me realize my potential … and pushing past it,” Ebbinghaus said of his years with the program. “Summit Youth Hockey gave me the tools and coaching that I could use to better my game on and off the ice.”
The Summit Youth Hockey will begin its season next week on Monday, Sept. 12 with the program’s U10, U12, U14 coed teams and the girls U12 and U19 teams. Tryouts will run through the first two weeks of practice before players are selected into two teams per age division. The mites program will begin in November.
This season Engelbert hopes to continue to see success in the Summit Youth Hockey program as well as grow the participation rate for girls.
“Hockey is for girls too,” Engelbert said. “Our girls participation in U12 and younger is really strong, so we just want to keep building that momentum in that younger age group and progress that.”
To register for the upcoming season or find out more information, visit SummitHockey.org.
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